Carbohydrates are, together with proteins, the clear protagonists in the world of sports nutrition and supplementation. Due to its properties, this nutrient plays a fundamental role in optimising physical performance through diet and food supplements. If proteins are always related to muscle work, in the case of carbohydrates we must talk about a particularly essential action in everything related to the production of energy by the body.
Carbohydrate shakes are one of the most common forms of supplementation and, through them, we are always looking for that extra vitality that allows us to delay fatigue and train at a higher pace. However, to speak only of carbohydrates as energy-enhancing is to oversimplify their capabilities; in fact, the variety of this macro nutrient means that each type is ideal for a specific situation.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of the three macro nutrients (along with fats and proteins), i.e. one of the three kinds of nutrients that we need to consume in large quantities for our bodies to function properly. They are made up of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen.
The characteristic function of carbohydrates is the production of energy through glycogen and the famous molecule called ATP . They are responsible for keeping the stores that hold these energy compounds stable, making them always available for use and, in case they are depleted by intense sports practice, replenishing them as far as possible.
It is therefore very important for any high-level athlete to have a diet in which the amount of carbohydrates needed to cover the specific energy requirements of a training or competition has been calculated.
What are carbohydrates for?
A carbohydrate shake has a wide range of possibilities and uses. In fact, it could be said that there are as many variations as there are people and sports disciplines, since energy needs are closely linked to personal characteristics, the type of activity performed and the context in which it is carried out.
To give a simple example, we can say that a marathon is not the same as an indoor football match, but neither is a marathon the same for someone who has trained the day before as it is for someone who has been resting for two days. This is because carbohydrate intake must be adapted as closely as possible to the state of the energy reserves of the person for whom it is intended .
Given this breadth of uses, a simplification can be made to mention some of the most common functions for which carbohydrate shakes and carbohydrate supplements are used.
On the one hand, it is very typical to use this macro nutrient in the days leading up to a competition, with the aim of gradually replenishing energy reserves so that they arrive at the key moment in a state of maximum availability.
Once you get into the actual physical activity, there are many carbohydrate-based supplements that are specifically designed to be taken in a context where an immediate energy boost is needed to keep the muscles and brain working at a good pace.
It is also common to use carbohydrates to improve recovery capacity after intense physical exertion , as one of the problems in these situations is that energy stores become depleted. This use is very valuable when you need to get your body back to optimum fitness because you have another competition coming up in a short time.
How many types of carbohydrates are there?
As it could not be otherwise, the enormous variety of possibilities offered by carbohydrates is possible thanks to the fact that there are different types of this macro nutrient. To mention them all would be too long, so we are going to explain the two main groups and the qualities that separate them.
The criterion for differentiation has to do with the simplicity or complexity of their composition, which directly influences the ease with which they are absorbed by the body.
Simple or high glycaemic index carbohydrates are rapidly assimilated by our body . In other words, they provide energy almost immediately after ingestion. The advantages of this characteristic have to do with a shorter digestion time, which means less digestive discomfort, and a short but quick energy boost. They are perfect for use during a competition, because they replenish energy stores in a very short time and do not cause digestion problems.
Complex carbohydrates or low glycaemic index carbohydrates are the most common in everyday life. Because of their composition, it takes longer for the body to break them down before they can enter the bloodstream. Their advantages are the elimination of problems related to sugar peaks and, above all, a less powerful but longer-lasting energy intake.